Sanjay Kumar, India Director of the Mittal Institute, and Saba Kohli Dave, programme coordinator at the Mittal Institute Delhi office, met with Dr. Pawan Sinha, who started the inspiring initiative Project Prakash. The two main goals of Project Prakash are 1) to focus on providing treatment to children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who have curable blindness and 2) understanding the cognitive and neurological mechanisms that support learning and plasticity in the brain once the child is able to see. Sinha’s research with Project Prakash received funding from the collaboration between Tata Trusts and the Mittal Institute titled, “Multi-disciplinary Approach to Innovative Social Enterprises”.
Our team visited one of Project Prakash’s partners, Shroff Hospital, where the children are brought from all over North and central India to be treated and rehabilitated free of cost. As part of the program, Sinha and his team reach out to blind schools as well as hold community screening programs in villages and small towns in order to recruit children who may have treatable blindness, bring them to Delhi for surgery and treatment, and follow their neurological and visual progress over the next few weeks. Future goals of the research include proactively providing special education to children who have been treated and digitizing all records of patients seen during field screenings.
Aside from the scientific angle of the project, Sinha mentioned how social stigma is an important aspect to consider during research and treatment. We met a mother who had defied her village elders and travelled with her two visually impaired daughters, Nazifa and Noor (names changed), to Project Prakash in Delhi for treatment and education. Neither her family members nor the village leaders wanted the girls to travel, and Noor and Nazifa would have remained blind but for the strength and conviction of their mother. Sinha and his team talked about the importance of having a field educator in order to create an understanding of the treatment among community members.